Forum Monday explores economic development ideas Collier could emulate

Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce President
Mike Reagen

Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce President Mike Reagen

What: On Monday, Hodges University will present the findings from its Collier County Comparative Analysis Project. The project is meant to help guide decisions about the delivery of economic development in Collier in the future.

Where: Hodges University, Science and Technology Lecture Hall at the Collier County campus. Address: 2647 Professional Circle, Naples. The room seats up to 500 people.

When: The program starts at 3:45 p.m. and includes a panel discussion with economic development experts from other parts of the state.

Who: Panelists will include Janet Watermeier, president and CEO of Watermeier Consulting & Property Services in Fort Myers; Mark Huey, president and CEO of the Economic Development Corp. of Sarasota County; Larry Pelton, president and CEO of The Economic Development Council of St. Lucie County Inc.; Jim Moore, executive director of the Fort Myers Regional Partnership, Lee County’s Economic Development Office, and Katherine “Kitty” Green, the CEO of Habitat for Humanity in Lee and Hendry counties and chairwoman of the Horizon Council.

The moderator is Jeff Lytle, Daily News editorial page editor.

— It's decision time.

After almost two years of research, a team at Hodges University is ready to share its findings on how other counties – outside of Collier – deliver economic development.

There are hopes the findings will help Collier's government and business leaders decide how to best approach economic development in the future. Active efforts to attract and grow businesses in the county have dwindled since the county's Economic Development Council closed its doors in September, amid criticisms that it wasn't effective in a changing economy.

"We don't make the decision here, but we facilitate," said Aysegul Timur, a Hodges professor who took the lead on the research project.

She's the chairwoman of business administration at the Johnson School of Business at Hodges. She worked with a team of five others to do the Collier County Comparative Analysis Project, starting in 2010.

On Monday, the Hodges team is set to present the report to the community. The report gives a detailed look at how eight other counties in the state handle economic development, from their organizational structures to the incentives they offer to new and expanding businesses.

The report won't make any recommendations or answer the question: "Where do we go from here?" But the data-rich study is meant to shape the debate about the future of economic development.

"What this study will do is highlight several different models of how other counties have done it," said Katie Sproul, chairwoman of The Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber's president and CEO, Michael Reagen, asked the university to get involved in the study, initially requested by Leo Ochs, county manager for Collier County. Ochs hasn't seen the results of the study yet.

"It will take some time for folks to digest the information, but hopefully out of that a consensus on how to move forward will emerge, through various conversations with all in the community," Sproul said.

One of the early steps in the project was to compare Collier with other counties in the nation and state based on demographics, such as population, median age, race and income, to define "who we are," Timur said.

In the later stages of the study, the Hodges research team attempted to survey economic development organizations in 11 counties in Florida. Eight responded from Hillsborough, Orange, Sarasota, St. Lucie, Lee, Martin, Miami-Dade and Seminole.

Three agencies changed their minds after agreeing to participate in the study: The Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance, the JaxUSA Partnership in Jacksonville and the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County Inc. That might have been for competitive reasons or because the survey was time-consuming, Timur said.

The survey had 100 detailed questions. Some agencies didn't answer all the questions, possibly because they were too "sensitive," Timur said.

Here are some of the results in the survey:

■ Most agencies describe themselves as private-public partnerships, similar to the set-up of the now-defunct Economic Development Council in Collier County, which received $400,000 a year from county government to support its efforts before it folded.

Economic development councils in Lee and Seminole classify themselves as public.

■ Most of the economic development agencies count their local chambers and hospitals as partners, as well as county commissioners.

■ In fiscal 2011, the operating budgets of the economic development agencies ranged from a low of $670,000 in St. Lucie County to a high of $5.3 million for the Metro Orlando Economic Development Council, excluding business incentives.

■ With the economic downturn, some agencies have spent more on economic development. On average, the Business Development Board in Martin County had a $300,000 operational budget before 2009. That jumped to nearly $750,000 in fiscal 2010.

■ About 75 percent of the agencies get money for operations from private sources. Twenty-five percent tap property taxes and nearly 90 percent also get money from taxes, fees and other sources, including taxes on business licenses.

■ All of the agencies have a paid executive director. Staff size ranges from one in Seminole County to 29 working for the Beacon Council in Miami-Dade County. In Lee County, there's a staff of 15.

■ Most agencies target certain industries, from aviation and aerospace to clean technology and defense security.

■ All of the agencies offer financial incentives to attract new businesses. Likewise, most have incentives to keep and grow start-ups and existing companies. Those incentives include cash, fee payment assistance and tax credits.

Only a few agencies shared information on the amount of financial incentives they've given to businesses during the past two years. In fiscal 2011, $1 million was spent on incentives in Martin, $5 million in Sarasota, $6.5 million in Lee and $74,000 in Seminole.

The economic development agencies primarily judge their success by the jobs they help create and the companies they help attract.

All of the agencies feel their communities support their efforts. Going forward, that could be one of the biggest hurdles in Collier, said Reagen, the Naples chamber's CEO.

"It's quite clear that in the next couple of years we need to be engaged in orchestrating a constituency to be supportive of economic development here," he said. "That means showing the different kinds of residents here why it's important to be supportive."

There's at least one conclusion that can be drawn from the comparative study, Timur said.

"There is no recipe to do things right or wrong when it comes to economic development activities," she said.

Katie Sproul, Hodges University Humanitarian of the year 2010.

Katie Sproul, Hodges University Humanitarian of the year 2010.

Bob Mulhere, a chamber consultant and a former chairman of Collier County's Economic Development Council, agrees.

"One size doesn't fit all when it comes to economic development," he said.

There are common elements in the report, however, that should help Collier figure out what to include in its new economic development structure, which is still evolving, Mulhere said.

Sproul, who hasn't seen the results of the Hodges study yet, is eager to hear about them Monday.

"What we're really talking about is economic prosperity," she said. "Economic development, for some folks, conjures up a very specific vision. I think this is really about the economic prosperity for our community and finding a way that these activities are done for the benefit of the entire community."

__ Connect with Laura Layden at www.naplesnews.com/staff/laura_layden

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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